(46) Baking bikes and boiling our butts off
Wednesday 6th February
We got up at 6.30am to say goodbye to Amanda, Simon, Joseph and Patrick. It was sad to say goodbye as they had been great to stay with and we promised to meet up for a beer and a game of sticky glue when we were all in the UK next. We had breakfast and finished packing our kit. We were on the road by 8am, pleased to be on the go.
We headed out of town using a map that Neil had drawn for us on a napkin. We were feeling sad to be leaving Khartoum and our new friends but it felt great to be finally turning the pedals. Sharon passed a young boy who kicked at her rear pannier, fortunately not hard enough to push her off but enough to put her in a bad mood for a while. We missed a turning and stopped to ask the way at a shop. The guy there was very friendly and drew us a map which included Cairo and Wadi Halfa and if we let him continue it would have had the north pole on it. He did how ever draw a more local map on the back of it which was much more useful! We rode on feeling low in motivation and pretty despondent. We weren’t sure what attributed to our mood but we both felt the same.
We managed to do 30 miles through the increasing farmland, before stopping for lunch under a tree. Three individual cars pulled up and said hello during the 2 hours we were there – one guy even handed us some bread.
Tim getting used to life back on the road
We rode on into the 40 degree heat – it was actually 44 degrees at 3pm and didn’t really cool down below 40 until the sun started to drop. We spotted a small café at about 5pm and stopped for a chi and started to look for somewhere to camp. We found a good spot and wheeled our bikes through the sand. It didn’t take long to get back into the old routine and we cooked tuna and pasta washed down with a cuppa – Amanda had donated some Twinnings Breakfast tea – delicious! Tim spotted some sort of rodent but didn’t manage to get a good look at it. We slept ok; the stars shone brilliantly as there was no moon. We think Dolly enjoyed her first day!
Thursday 7th February
Up at sunrise!
We woke and got up at 7.15am along with the rodent Tim had spotted the evening before who was running around making himself busy. We realised we had used a lot more water than we should have the day before; we weren’t sure if this was due to the fact that it was so hot or we were out of the habit of conserving water. We made do with a small drink instead of tea and ate jam and bread.
The sun was hazy for the first couple of hours, keeping the temperature lower than usual for the first couple of hours. As we rode past cultivated fields, we noticed hundreds of plastic bags that had blown into the desert. Plastic bags are handed out for anything and everything; Sharon is always laughed at when she produces her own. It is not only an eye-sore; animals such as goats and cattle sometimes chew on the bags and choke causing a massive problem for the farmers.
Plastic bags in the desert
We passed a lovely looking café so decided to call in and ask for water and a chi. The guys who ran it were really friendly and we could have stayed there drinking tea all day.
We got going before the sun got too intense, covering 40 miles before we stopped for lunch. The temperature was 42 as we entered a small shaded hut next to a Mosque and started to fill our water bag from some of the many clay urns that line the road. A truck arrived and the men came over and insisted we ate lunch with them. They produced a tiered cooking pot which contained different sauces which were eaten with bread. We were told one was camel meat, which had the texture of lamb but it was difficult to know exactly what it tasted like as the sauce was so spicey!
Tim eating his camel lunch
We had a rest for an hour but it was difficult for Sharon to lie down as the group of men were there so we headed off saying our thanks to find a tree. With the temperature still in the 40’s we quickly found a good spot and enjoyed the shade for an hour or so – it was a cool 36 degrees under the tree. We rode on through occasional scrubland full of spikey trees and eventually arrived in the town of Wadi Medani.
Shaz heading into town
The road had been tarmaced all the way and we were suprised to find the last 1/2 mile was dirt road into such a large town. We headed into the centre to pick up supplies by which time it was 6pm so we decided to eat at a cafe. We ate roast chicken and bread which cost about £3 for both of us and picked up some fruit including ‘Walter melone’. Unfortunately Walter fell from his position strapped to Sharon’s bike as we rode out of town and we decided to eat it there and then (as Sharon had had a near death experience trying to save him from being run over by a car). We rode on into the dark with Sharon being the only one with a light as Tim no longer had a dymano hub. We looked for somewhere suitable to camp but there was an increasing level of cultivated land so it proved difficult. We finally found somewhere and pushed the bikes through the earth to get away from the road. We were tired and sore from our first 2 days on the road since such a long break. It had also been incredibly hot and Tim had to ‘break in’ another Brookes saddle which had made his ‘derriere’ sore.
Friday 8th February
We woke at 6.30am but lay-in until 7 enjoying the cool but still feeling tired. We were amused to see that we had camped right in the middle of a vast field.
It was the usual bread and jam for breakfast and half a grapefruit (the grapefruits in Sudan are delicious). We got going by 8am and we could feel the wind picking up along with the temperature knowing the road went east (producing a head/side wind) in about 20 miles. As we passed a small café the owner called us in for a cup of chi. We couldn’t resist and enjoyed chatting to them for a while. We stopped again after an hour or so feeling exhausted and took an hour out to rest under a tree. Knowing we wanted to get at least 30 miles done before lunch as the winds and temperature would keep rising, we reluctantly got going.
Tim at a ‘goat crossing’
Ladies carrying straw
Cows crossing the fields
The heat was soon above 40 degrees and the headwind had started and was getting stronger by the minute reducing us to a 5 MPH slog. We finally gave up next to a tree. We cleared the ground of thorns and lay out on our tarp but as the sun moved around we had less and less shade. We moved with the shade but we were getting closer and closer to the road and being sprayed by dust and gravel by the passing vehicles. We decided we had to move on and find some better shelter.
We packed up the tarp and pushed our bikes onto the road. We checked the tyres for thorns and removed a few from Sharon’s including a small piece of wire. Tim spotted a big thorn in his back tyre but as he removed it there was the depressing sound of air escaping. Exasperated and desperate to get out of the heat, Tim fixed it and we rode on another 2 miles before arriving at a village. There was a concrete building with a group of workmen outside and we asked if we could come inside to make some lunch. They watched while we made noodles and a cup of tea but they declined sharing it with us. After a while we said our goodbyes and rode our bikes over a bridge, finding a wooded area on the other side of the road. We parked up and sat out the heat and wind. The rest would do us good as fighting in the wind and heat was really using a lot of energy. We got going again around 4.30pm and had our papers checked at a police check point as we left the village. This happened fairly regularly as a lot of the larger villages had police check points. Sometimes they would look at our papers which included our travel permit and photography permit, sometimes they would just take a photo of us!
Sunset in the village
We rode on until it got dark and stopped to cook tea. We got going again about 8.45pm and rode on into the night. There was no wind and the temperature was finally comfortable – about 25 degrees. The road vanished, stretched out ahead of us and the taillights of the cars passing us faded far into the distance. Feeling exhausted we pulled off the road into a straw field. We pitched the tent while being attacked by many large insects and finally crawled onto our thermarests at 11.30.
Isn’t he a beauty?!
Saturday 9th February
Sharon woke suddenly as there was someone coming towards the tent with a torch. Tim woke disorientated to see 2 torch lights pointing at our tent. We said hello and quickly got dressed. They looked surprised to see us there and Tim explained that we were sleeping and leaving early. It was hard to understand what they were saying, it seemed they were inviting us for something to eat in their village. As it was 2.30am so we politely declined and crawled back into the tent. Half an hour later they came back and we eventually persuaded them we needed to sleep. The alarm woke us at 6am and we were on the road by 7.
Camels on the move
Passing by grass huts
A hut being thatched
Starting to see some mountains as we head to the border
We made good progress as there was little wind and we stopped at a farm with lots of grass huts to take a break.There was an elderly man there who let us take time out from the heat and we rested between 12 and 3pm. He owned the farm that produced wheat for bread and his son arrived on a Massey Ferguson tracker from the fields minutes before his colleague who arrived by camel.
We re-joined the highway thinking it had to be cooler by then. It was actually 48 degrees and a really intense heat. Knowing we would do ourselves no favours by riding in it, we once again sought respite from a tree and lay there waiting for the sun’s strength to wane. We were dozing when we heard someone say hello. JJ walked towards us carrying bottles of manjo juice, coke and cold water. We felt like we had woken in heaven!
JJ and his wife Tracy owned the International School in Khartoum and also the Darl group which distribute drinks across Sudan. They were both lovely and it was great to spend time with them and we could have chatted all day. We were amazed at how long they stuck around considering we had been riding in the desert sweating for 3 days. They kindly told us to ring them when we arrived in Gedaref where they had contacts who could help us if we needed it. We said our goodbyes and laughed about the toothpaste which was on Sharon’s top and that Tim had his vest inside out – we must have looked like quite a pair! We enjoyed the cold drinks, marvelling at our good fortune that JJ had spotted us.
Sitting out the heat just before JJ found us
JJ and Tracy – angels on the road!
We got back on the road at 4pm and rode to the next village to pick up food. We rode into the dark and with still 30 miles to go to Gedaref we got our heads down. The wind had dropped but so had our energy levels and we stopped after covering only another 10 miles. We walked across a stubble field and found a clear spot which was only about 150 metres from the road to make some dinner and pitch the tent. We had a quick wash and passed out exhausted.
Sunday 10th February
Nervous we might be seen by the passing car headlights, Tim woke in the night thinking one was coming across the field. At closer inspection we realised it was on the road and dropped back to sleep tired from the intense wind and heat of the previous days. We woke at 6am and both found it hard to coax our eyes open so agreed to another 30 minutes. 45 minutes later we packed up as fast as a sleepy snail, not enjoying our breakfast of dried bread and jam. We took our Larium tablets which were soon causing havoc to Tim’s digestive system. He experienced the most intense heart burn and had to keep stopping to drink water to relieve the pain. Alongside this the new crank arm we had got in Khartoum was also playing up and had been slipping every 10 miles or so. Tim, being the resourceful man he is, cut up a coke can, made a shim and gently persuaded it back onto the bottom bracket with a large rock. Tim commented it reminded him of being a cave man 😉
Tim on the road to Gedafef
We got going and with the wind building made steady progress towards Gedaref. We reached the town by 10am and called JJ. He told us to wait where we were and someone would come out to meet us. Within 10 minutes Awad, who was the manager of the local depot, pulled up telling us JJ was treating us to a night in a hotel with his compliments. We couldn’t believe it. We followed his truck into town and checked into the hotel. Awad ordered us some food and cold drinks and told us we were not to pay for anything, we were guests. We locked the bikes under the stairs in the hallway and went to our room, took a shower and promptly fell asleep.
Later in the day we discovered they had wifi in the huge lobby with comfy sofas so we spent time contacting home. We popped upstairs at one point to discover we were locked out of our room. They had to break in and found the lock had broken. We were quickly moved to another room and then headed out into town to pick up some food. We had a super evening pottering around the buzzing market. We picked up fruit, pasta, bread and even a new shirt each. We went back to the hotel feeling a renewed strength, and chatted excitedly about our pending arrival in Ethiopia. We were less than 100 miles from the border.
Monday 11th February
We woke at 7am and although still tired we felt refreshed and so grateful to JJ and Tracy for our treat. Tim put on his new shirt and we sat and ate juicy grapefruits we had bought the previous evening. We were on the road by 8.30am and made our way out of town. We had a renewed strength as we peddled along happy for the wind to pick up as we had changed direction and were heading south-east towards the Ethiopian border. What a difference! We were gliding along.
We stopped a couple of times to tap the crank arm back on but still made good progress covering about 35 miles before we stopped for lunch. We spotted a tree to escape the 46 degree heat and decided to cook pasta for lunch and then have a sandwich in the evening. Tim messed about with the stove as it was still not working properly and hadn’t been since entering Sudan. He changed the jet to one which was intended for diesel use -it worked better we think because the fuel appears to be much oilier here. We sat and had lunch and watched as ladies carried wares on their heads and a group of camel herders approached. Sharon asked if she could take a photo and they spent time getting their camels into a good position for a good shot.
Posing for a good shot
As we rode on we passed more and more round mud houses with thatched roofs. It was beginning to look more like the typical African landscape that we had seen in photographs. Everyone was smiling at us and shouting ‘hello, hello’ as we passed and we smiled as we rode along. We also passed many large herds of cattle and goats, such a difference to the north of Sudan where we only saw the odd camel.
We reached the town of Doka where we picked up some cold water and grapefruits. We soon rode on out of town as we wanted to camp within 30 miles of the Ethiopian border so we would cross it the following day.
Shaz on the road
We passed some controlled stubble burning at the side of the road and with the sun now beginning to set over the mud huts and distant mountains we were starting to get excited about entering a new country.
Controlled burning along the side of the road
Sunsets over huts
We pulled off the road next to a dried out river and made camp. We had a light tea and felt much more relaxed as we didn’t need to get all of the cooking equipment out. Tim spoke to Neil who was in Scotland, regarding him picking up a new crank arm for us as he was flying to Addis Ababa (the capital of Ethiopia) on the 4th March. We planned to meet him there for dinner and we could also pick up the part. We fended off the ever-growing insect population and headed to bed.
Tuesday 12th February
Even though we had a good camp spot, we were able to be seen from the road. No-one bothered us though and we heard people herding cattle near to our tent late into the evening. Neither of us slept very well and we woke feeling tired. We had 35 miles to do before arriving at the border and didn’t want to get there late.
Leaving the camp spot
Although the going was tougher than yesterday, the scenery made up for it with the hills getting higher and the villages with mud huts. We passed a school and were spotted by the children who ran out to the road to say hello.
Tim greeting the school children
We came over the top of the hill to see what looked like a pack of small dogs on the road. It took a minute for us to realise that they were actually Vervet monkeys which are present in Ethiopia and East Africa. We stopped to take photos and congratulated ourselves on riding from somewhere where there are Reindeer to somewhere where there are monkeys!
A Vervet monkey
We continued on, descending a few short hills and arrived at the border town of Gallabet. It took about 3 hours to cross the border as we had to go to 3 police stations for someone to copy the same details from our passports.
The town of Gallabet
We were finally stamped out of Sudan and changed our Sudanese pounds into Ethiopian Burr. We arrived at the immigration office in Metema 200 metres across the border. A lovely lady stamped us in to Ethiopia and patiently taught us a few words of Amheric. We passed through customs which was on a steep dusty slope and arrived in a different world. There was loud music playing, colourful stalls and people everywhere. The most noticeable difference was how the women dressed and the number of bars along the street. We decided not to have one as it was 48 degrees and we probably wouldn’t leave. We picked up water and an Ethiopian SIM card and rode for about 5 miles before stopping under a tree for something to eat. During lnuch, we spotted a rather cool looking stick insect but didn’t put him in our sandwich as he was rather skinny.
The stick insect who joined us for lunch
We wanted to cover at least 20 miles before stopping for the night and we passed through many villages with kids shouting ‘you, you’ at us. We had read and heard many stories about kids throwing stones at passing cycle tourists and we nervously rode through but there was not a stone in sight.
Shaz ready for the hills…
We stopped in a large village and asked if we could camp but the people looked nervously at us so we carried on. We had been told to camp in villages due to the hyenas but we hadn’t seen or heard any so thought we would take a chance and headed out of town. We were also just over the Sudanese border so figured they would live further into the mountains. With just about enough food and water, we pitched just the other side near a dry river bed and fell asleep hoping no-one would spot us.
Stats for Sudan:
Number of days in country: 56 days (32 days in Khartoum)
Total distance cycled: 1,188 miles / 1,911 km – running total: 8,647 miles /13,914 km
Total altitude gain: 4,871 metres- running total 88,476 metres
Thanks for reading!